Are new technologies the answer to climate change?
It’s been seventeen years since the implementation of the Kyoto protocol in 2005 and the commitment of 192 signed parties to reduce their carbon emissions. Yet the world’s temperature is still rising. The environmental crisis due to climate change continues to escalate.
Although the conversation about climate change and its consequences has heated recently, there is still no consensus among policymakers on the most effective way forward.
The policies currently implemented include technological improvements, substituting fossil fuels with renewable energies, offering educational programs on carbon-wise consumption, and implementing a price on carbon. However, there is little agreement on their relative merits.
Climate change is a result of the accumulation of human-made CO2 emissions in the atmosphere, mainly due to the consumption of fossil fuel energies. That’s why the focus on more energy-efficient technologies and renewable energies with lower carbon content has increased over the past decades.
However, due to a phenomenon called the “rebound effect”, rather than global energy consumption declining, consumption has actually increased by 138 per cent over the same period.
My study published in the Energy Research and Social Science journal confirms that investing in new technologies, though vital and influential in the long term, cannot reduce the overall energy consumption in the medium term unless accompanied by a carbon tax.
Note that the introduction of new technologies and making them accessible to industries at a national level is a time and resource-consuming procedure, requiring huge investment and a large number of skilled workers. Both these are severely lacking in most countries as a result of the covid pandemic.
Hesitation to apply a carbon tax policy stems from the lack of public acceptance and the governments’ concern about its economic costs. But a well thought-out policy accompanied by a well-planned tax revenue recycling approach not only eliminates the costs but ignites wiser energy consumption behaviour, leading to a more sustainable lifestyle and sustainable economy.
Furthermore, comparing the cost of a carbon tax with the cost we bear due to more frequent and more intense floods, rainfalls, wildfires, storms, drought, and the resulted human loss confirms a well-implemented carbon tax policy is a better option. This is an accredited tool to combat climate change.
At this stage and despite all the environmental challenges, it’s worth being positive. We still have time and the required tools to win the battle.
In the meantime, significant academic research continues to focus on different aspects of this important issue of our time. Governments are determined to take action and people are becoming more aware of the situation.
Now all the stakeholders should take responsibility and cooperate to gain victory against climate change.
Mona Mashhadi Rajabi is a PhD candidate at Macquarie Business school specializing in energy economics and environmental finance. Her recent paper Dilemmas of energy efficiency: A systematic review of the rebound effect and attempts to curb energy consumption is a review article, explaining the effect of technological improvement on overall energy consumption, while offering corrective policies.